Courtesy Graza

Like Go-Gurt before it, the playful ethos of olive oil brand Graza, which launched earlier this year, is defined by its equally carefree form factor. While Go-Gurt’s squeezable plastic sleeve made yogurt more appealing to children, Graza’s squeezeable bottle makes inherently appealing high-quality olive oil less precious to everyone. Or, in as Gander partner Katie Levy, put it, with its quality product at a reasonable price ($35 for 1250 ml) Graza is trying to give everyone “a sort of luxury experience” while also “taking some of the luxury out of it.” Restaurant kitchens put olive oil in squeeze bottles, and you can, too. 

Graza is part of a larger trend of kind of blending a back of house restaurant aesthetic with home cooking. (If you’ve ever labeled leftovers with painter’s tape and a Sharpie, you’re in on this, too. Bonus points if they’re in a plastic deli container.) It’s the kind of high/low combination that’s all over food media and branding, but rarely comes through in actual packaging design. Whereas other modern olive oil brands like Pineapple Collaborative (comes in a tin) and Brightland (comes in a white ceramic bottle) feel more like top-shelf products, Graza is more grabbable. And that’s intentional. 

“You don’t get to increase the use in this category just by saying ‘I have the best olive oil,’ or by having the most beautiful packaging,” said Graza founder Andrew Benin. “Our bet was that we increase likelihood of use, propensity of use because the form factor kind of does the work for us. You just like pick it up, squeeze it. It’s next to your stove and multiple times a day, you just walk by and you’re like ‘Oh, I’ll squeeze it on my toast.’” Benin worked with Levy and her colleagues at New York-based agency Gander to build an entire identity around his so-simple-how-in-the-world-did-no-one-think-of-that idea. 

Courtesy Graza

The loose, spontaneous feeling you get while using the squeeze bottle is also how the brand wants its customers to feel in the kitchen. “It shouldn’t be treated as like, ‘This is my very special oil, for very special moments.’ It’s very everyday,” said Levy. Those feelings of approachability and fun informed the brand’s similarly unfussy illustration style — which Levy describes “drawn with a Sharpie on a Post-It, scanned it in and there we have it.” She was quick to follow up that breezy characterization as somewhat of an oversimplification, but not far off: “I’m making it sound really simple, obviously we have a very talented team that are very talented at illustration but you know, we’re not obsessing for millions of hours over the exact details of this.”

One thing that did involve more back and forth was figuring out how to design the front of the pack. Levy said they tried some logo-driven and type-driven designs that were beautiful, but missing the levity at the core of the brand. Adding illustrations to the front label added an emotional element, and also had the secondary benefit of “slightly personifying the oil,” Levy said. Graza currently has two products — Drizzle, a 500 ml bottle of finishing oil and Sizzle, 750 ml of cooking oil. The bottle for Drizzle, the greener, more intense oil, has an illustration of an olive with a spigot coming out of it. Sizzle features a woman in a polka dot dress, one arm flung over her shoulder as she squeezes a droplets of oil into a frying pan that’s held by her other hand, behind her back. She has the all flourish and poise of a flamenco dancer. 

Interest among amateur cooks in the less glamorous aspects of the restaurant world is nothing new (see: Kitchen Confidential, Sweetbitter and most recently, The Bear). But, relatively speaking, food products that capitalize on that interest are — like, say buckets of Maldon Salt available outside of restaurant supply shops. They make home cooking into a kind of cosplay. Graza’s success has as much to do with the quality of its product and marketing as it does with its strategy to pitch itself as a chef-inspired brand. (Levy says one of the original brand ideas was around the term “ugly delicious” — a phrase coined by chef David Chang to describe food that’s more about tasting good than looking good.) 

Graza is a more marketable, aspirational version of a professional chef’s practical, low-pretense approach to cooking. And they 100% get this, which is, at least in part, why the brand has been so successful in such a short amount of time. “This is gonna sound weird,” said Benin, “but a good amount of people buy us just because it looks cool and it makes them feel nice and fuzzy inside. And they’re not even brand-obsessed people. They’re just like, ‘That looks great and it’s in a squeeze bottle, cool!’” In Graza’s case, it’s not just the product that makes the brand — it’s the package.